If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.
– John Quincy Adams

The word inspiration can be defined as: a divine influence or action on a person believed to qualify him or her to receive and communicate sacred revelation, the action or power of moving the intellect or emotions, or the act of influencing or suggesting opinions.

InnerWill’s newest series, Inspired By, is dedicated to honoring the people and practices that have uplifted and influenced us into who we are and what we do every single day.

One of the people who inspires me is my father-in-law. He passed away several years ago, but his impact on me continues—much to my surprise.

He was a World War II vet. He tried to join the Navy at 15, again at 16, and they finally let him in at 17. He was not the model of a Navy Man—he hated authority, wanted nothing to do with the formality of rank or status, and only wanted to fight. Of course, the Navy made him a radio operator on an LST (Landing Ship,Tank)—basically a big shoebox filled with tanks and troops that would plow onto a beach, drop everyone off, pick up the wounded and shove off again. He was in the fight (sort of) getting shelled and strafed, but he wasn’t manning a gun; he was taking and sending messages.

He was not happy about it, but grudgingly did his job and did it well.

He spent his years in the Navy getting rank, losing rank, having a great time with other 18 year olds across the Pacific, and complaining about officers. Looking through his war journals, you can see more of the kid that he was than the man he would become.

After the Navy he joined the post office, and later became a postal inspector—basically a detective looking for mail theft and fraud. Once he retired he started a second career as a private investigator, working a variety of cases, from theft to murder. Over the years he built a large network of informants in the community and friends within law enforcement.

At his funeral, it was standing room only, complete with Secret Service agents, Federal Judges, police officers, and some very sketchy looking characters.

He was a larger than life figure—he was 5’6 but thought he was 6’5. He wouldn’t back down from a fight and even started a few. He had a thin skin but could cut others with words alone. By the time I came along, he was in his 70’s, and avidly writing letters to the newspaper about politics (mention a particular president in his presence and he would spit and sputter and use language that would make your mother blush). I’m pretty sure he did a background check on me when I started dating his daughter, and I swear he tailed me a time or two after we got married.

All of this made him interesting, but what made him inspirational was his caring for his family and friends. He was the linchpin of his family and the neighborhood; he brought people together through grit, and good humor, and charm. He pulled others toward him like the gravity around a star.

For a man with so much fight in him he had a huge heart—he cared deeply about others even if the way he showed it felt heavy handed. He could fuss and fight and hold a grudge while he was hugging and laughing and looking for ways to check up on you, for your own good, of course.

I wonder what he could have been with a little more self-awareness, a bit of feedback, and a pinch more understanding of others. What could he have been with a few more conscious choices, made over a lifetime? He was not an easy man but he was a significant one—he forged ties between people that persist to this day. I miss him still.



Tom Epperson

Tom Epperson

Dr. Tom Epperson is the President of InnerWill, and an instructor in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Executive MBA program. Tom is a certified business coach and has a Doctorate in Leadership from The George Washington University. Tom works with clients on cultural transformation, leadership development, executive coaching, and igniting individual and organizational potential. Previously, Tom served as the HR Director for Luck Companies, and played a significant role as one of the architects of Luck Companies’ cultural transformation.

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